The morning of Maes Hughes' funeral, Roy Mustang thinks about his friend.
Author's note: This is a companion piece to "Pearls That Were His Eyes," however, it is not necessary to have read that story to understand this one and like "Pearls," contains spoilers for episode 25, "Words of Farewell," of the anime.
Again, the title comes from one of Ariel's speeches in "The Tempest." "Full fathom five thy father lies/of his bones are coral made, /those are pearls that were his eyes/nothing of him doth change/but doth suffer a sea change, /into something rich and strange. Thank you for reading.
Full Fathom Five
It was supposed to rain. During a funeral, the skies were supposed to weep, even if no one else could. Instead the sky was a beautiful sunshiny blue color with almost nary a cloud in the sky, and the air had a hint of early morning crispness that chilled and raised gooseflesh as delicate wisps of steam rose off his damp skin. It had been a beautiful week, as far as the weather was concerned in Central City. Nature had a fondness for irony.
Tying a towel around his waist, Roy Mustang stepped out the shower in his quarters and glanced at the perfect sky through the tiny open window of the bathroom. He was going to have to start looking for an apartment soon, he considered idly, if he was going to be transferred to Central permanently. Hughes and Gracia would probably have a ball helping -
No, Hughes couldn't help him pick out a new apartment, because Hughes was dead, he remembered abruptly.
The very idea that Hughes could be dead was still surreal to him. Hughes had been there for almost as long as he could remember, a steady presence that guided and supported him. And yet, today, they were burying him.
"I'll work under you. Stay close to the higher ups and help push you to the top," Hughes declared boldly, eating one of the slices of apple pie his new girlfriend had made for Mustang.
Mustang felt the knot that had settled in the pit of his stomach since his first days of combat in Ishbal loosen a bit at his friend's unconditional support. "Maes-" he began, trying to somehow articulate the risk of being openly associated with someone who was planning to supplant the Fuhrer, but Hughes interrupted him.
"The Fuhrer has started building a task force. Word has it that he plans to send them down South" he said, shoving another piece of apple pie in his mouth.
"What for?" Mustang asked sharply.
"Officially? To secure the Ishbalic camps," Hughes said, a grave expression on his face.
"Secure them? What for? There's nothing left! They have nothing left to resist us with!" Mustang snapped heatedly.
Hughes just looked at him, patiently connecting the dots for him. "I'm sure he'll find agitators if he looks hard enough for them." He put the basket back down and pulled out another slice. "Here, eat something, for crying out loud. You look like crap, Roy."
Mustang ignored the offering of food. "This is ridiculous! He-"
"Exactly," Hughes interrupted. "It's ridiculous. That's why I'm going to push you to the top. Because ever since Bradley came to power, we've been involved in one expansionist war after another," Hughes said soberly, no trace of lightness or humor on his face.
Mustang's mouth hung slightly open and Hughes continued. "We need someone in the brass who understands what war really is, Roy. Someone who understands that the only reason for war should be to defend, not attack. I'm not just going to do this because you're my friend. I'm going to help you, because I honestly believe you're a good candidate for the job."
He was unable to do anything except stare at his friend until Hughes finally shoved the piece of apple pie into his hand. "Eat it, Roy. Meanwhile, where's your mop?"
"The mop?" Mustang asked, hesitantly taking a bite of the food.
"You're going to need it to clean this crap up off of the floor," Hughes said, pointing to the chalk arrays that littered the floor.
Mustang looked at the intricate circles on the floor, the filthy buckets, the open books, and the scattered pieces of paper with weeks of work scribbled on them. The idea was still attractive, the idea that he could try to correct his actions, to reconstruct the people he had killed.
"You can't go back, Roy," Hughes said, and Mustang looked at his friend. There was sympathy in Hughes' face, but he was also deadly serious. "It's time to move forward. You're strong, strong enough to live with the guilt."
"I'm not strong! I couldn't even - " Mustang interjected, his voice slightly wild.
Hughes cut him off, pinning Mustang with a hard stare. " I think the dead would agree with me that a better atonement would be for you to live, to make sure that a war like Ishbal can never happen again,"
Mustang looked away from Hughes and glanced around at his apartment. "The mop is in the bathroom," he said, finally.
"Well then? Get to it," Hughes said, standing up from his seat by the window and walking toward the door, pausing to rest his hand on Mustang's shoulder for a moment before he walked out. Mustang watched him go before he shoved the piece of pie into his mouth and then went to clean up his own mess.
He walked out of the bathroom and into the tiny bedroom; ignoring the mostly full bottle of liquor he had bought last night. It still sat, mostly full, next to a glass on the desk where he had opened it last night.
In the end, however, he had been unable to bring himself to drink more than a few sips, even when an alcoholic haze seemed the best way to get through today. He couldn't show that kind of disrespect to Gracia and Elysia today, by showing up to the funeral drunk or hung-over. Instead his gaze wandered over to his bed.
His dress uniform was laid out, neatly pressed. His medals, won for valor in Ishbal were nestled in their case on his desk. White gloves lay next to the medals, not the rough embroidered ones he wore as the Flame Alchemist, but the plain dress gloves. His boots were shone to a high polish and the military cap that he so seldom wore rested atop the dress uniform with the neatly pressed black mourning sash.
He began to dress himself mechanically, trying not to think about how he and Hughes had hated these dress uniforms. There was always at least one military function per year that they would end up attending together when he was occasionally visited Central City, and Hughes would always complain about the starchy feel of the collar while Gracia would straighten it and declare how handsome he looked.
The military car idled in the street by the Hughes' home. Mustang waited patiently as the chauffer honked the horn and the front door opened, spilling golden lamplight that illuminated the falling snow. Hughes and Gracia came down their front walk; Hughes dressed to the nines in his formal uniform escorting his wife, who was looking quite pretty in her civilian formalwear. "Damn thing is strangling me," Hughes grumbled as he and Gracia climbed into the seat opposite him, pulling at the starched collar. Mustang grinned at him with no sympathy whatsoever.
"If I have to wear it, so do you," he smirked as the chauffer started the car. He made it a point to keep his hands in his lap and Hughes glared at him.
Gracia merely rolled her eyes at both of them. "I don't know what either of you are complaining about. You both look very smart and you're both certainly old enough to ignore some minor discomfort, aren't you?" Gracia had asked, her tone of voice amused.
"This is, of course, Roy, coming from a woman wearing high heels," Hughes had said, putting a finger under his collar and pulling slightly.
"Exactly. I'm an expert. And if I can get through an entire evening of dancing and dinner with these on, you can handle the uniform," Gracia retorted, slapping her husband's hand away from his collar while Hughes pouted slightly.
Mustang diplomatically stepped into the line of fire. "And you look quite lovely, I might add," he'd said. A hint of mischief lurked in his eyes. "It's a good thing your daughter takes after you. I'm afraid Maes here is hopelessly-" Gracia cut him off quickly, eyes widening and making a shushing motion, but it was too late.
"And why do I have to go to this stupid dinner when my poor little Elysia is home and all alone!" Hughes exclaimed. Mustang raised an eyebrow at his friend and looked at Gracia for an explanation.
Gracia sighed. "She is not alone," she said, addressing her husband rather than Mustang. "My mother is with her, and she's thrilled that's she's getting some quality time with the baby," Gracia finished, her tone indicating that they had had this argument before. "Besides, this is a good opportunity for you and I to spend some time together around other adults for a change."
Hughes appeared to consider that. "If I wanted a date, I could think of better places to take you, sweetheart. Besides, I'm not sure that you could consider everyone at this affair to be adults. Roy, can't you just see Hakuro in a bib?" he asked and Mustang choked.
"No comment," Mustang finally said, trying to contain his snickers. He wasn't going to be able to look at the General (whom many agreed, did need to be babied by his more competent inferior officers), without that brand new mental picture of him. He would have to be more cautious when he actually spoke to the man tonight. Laughing at one of your most influential superiors was definitely not a good way to be noticed.
Hughes shot him a satisfied look and Mustang knew that he had deliberately planted the image in his head. "It would suit him quite nicely, I think. What do you two say we ditch this boring party and go have some real fun?" Hughes teased. Both Mustang and Gracia shot him a skeptical look and he settled back into the seat, squirming. Gracia smacked Hughes' hand away from his collar as he reached to fiddle with it again, sighing with frustration.
"Honestly, Maes," she said, reaching over to straighten it. Once the stiff collar was arranged to her satisfaction she sat back. "Now, leave it," she said firmly, exchanging another amused glance with Mustang.
Her eyes rested on him for a minute, searching, and Mustang began to feel slightly self-conscious. "Is something out of place?" he asked, his hands nervously patting the front of his uniform.
"There's something different about you tonight, and I'm trying to figure out what it is," Gracia replied absently and Hughes snorted.
"His damn hair is out of his face, that's what's different," he said. Gracia looked back at him with mild shock and Mustang shifted slightly.
"He's right. I kept thinking that there was something off. I'm so used to seeing your hair falling into your eyes whenever I see you. You look much more distinguished tonight," Gracia commented, cocking her head to the side in consideration.
Mustang could feel his face warm slightly. "Why, thank you, lovely lady," he said, winking at her, covering his embarrassment.
Hughes growled playfully and took a swipe at him. "Now, now, Roy, go find your own. Which reminds me, isn't it about time you got married?"
"Shut up!" Mustang exclaimed, ignoring Hughes' laughter at how easily his friend was riled.
Remembering Gracia's observation that he looked less boyish when his hair was combed back, he took the time to brush it carefully off his face. A few pieces stubbornly fell into his eyes, and Mustang put the brush down, unwilling to expend the energy to try to make them behave. He stood in front of the small mirror above his dresser and looked at his reflection.
He still saw the same broad, elegant face that had won him many admirers, the dark hair and eyes contrasting with his pale skin. He had half thought that Hughes' death would have left some visible mark on his features that the whole world could see, showing everyone just how much his murder had changed him. Instead he still saw his eyes, the fine eyebrows more obvious now that they weren't hidden behind his hair. It was a beautiful face, he observed dispassionately. He had often been called "pretty," by women, his superiors and by his fellow officers. He had never been vain about his appearance, but he used his looks just as he used every other tool in his career to climb the ranks as quickly as he could.
People remembered a pretty face. Hughes had once told him that was why he could never excel at investigative work; too many people noticed him. It was Mustang's duty to be noticed, to promote himself as the brightest and the best. Hughes was the one who faded into the background with his family, while providing the support and strength that he needed to handle the consequences of being noticed.
Hughes had always kept him on top of what was going on in Central, helping him maneuver his way through the rocky internal politics that plagued the higher military officers, even when some of the information he needed was classified. He still remembered all the times Hughes had thwarted possible wiretaps with his endless soliloquies about his daughter and wife. Nobody paid attention to Hughes when all he talked about were his ordinary, seemingly trivial domestic happiness.
Not even himself, apparently. He, of all people, should have known better, but Hughes had put him off the Lab Five crisis as easily as he had frustrated the wiretaps with his excited plans about Elyisa's birthday and nagging him to get married himself. Mustang wasn't sure what stabbed deeper, that Hughes had managed to pull the wool over his eyes so easily or that he hadn't asked for his help.
Looking at his reflection his face twisted for a moment and he barely resisted the urge to punch the glass in front of him. Instead he finished dressing, arranging the medals on his chest and slipping the soft white gloves on his hands and straightening the collar.
Perhaps it was fitting after all that the day of Hughes' funeral was filled with bright yellow sunshine, he thought bitterly, as he fastened the black sash. Picking up the cap, he turned on his heel and walked out the door. Nothing and no one else had been forthcoming, not his friend and not the subsequent investigation. Why should the weather be any different?